On Twitter, someone implied that it is impossible to be a feminist and a football fan. It triggered me because I am both. This made me reflect on the reasons I could have stopped being a football fan.
Girls are discouraged from playing football.
Marva, a 24-year-old woman from England, was reminded of how boys view girls who like to play football. She wrote about how, as a young girl, boys became physical with her whenever she outplayed them. Marva also recalls a recent experience at a park when teenage boys whistled at her while she was kicking her ball. These kinds of experiences can cause girls to stop playing football.
Women are underestimated.
During last year’s Women’s World Cup Piers Morgan described Megan Rapinoe and the USA women’s national team as arrogant. Rapinoe specifically has also been subjected to public insults because she is a lesbian. It is hilariously ironic because men are allowed to flaunt their accomplishments all the time while women are demonised for being successful.
The gender pay gap in sports persists.
Female footballers do not earn as much as male footballers even when they perform better. In the past few years, South Africa and Nigeria’s women’s national team fared significantly better than their male counterparts. Yet they are paid less than the men. The USA women’s national team fight for equal pay is rather public and nasty. As all struggles for equality goes.
Women are objectified in football.
Whenever a football team is losing by a wide margin some fans on Twitter always make sexual analogies. These kinds of tweets often allude to rape. In 2018, the first-ever women’s Ballon d’Or winner, Ada Hegerberg was asked to twerk on live television. It was supposed to be a historic moment. Instead, the host decided to sexualize her rather than celebrate her achievement. However, Hegerberg politely declined his request and later said that it was not inappropriate. For a feminist, these kinds of experiences can stop a girl from being a football fan.
Football, and sports in general, is a way to maintain toxic masculinity.
Some men also fall into the trap of being reduced to their athleticism. Arsenal footballer Hector Bellerin is constantly mocked for his fashion choices. He said that he was even called a “lesbian” for growing his hair out. Bellerin has also been very outspoken when it comes to social and political issues. During the 2006 FIFA World Cup final, Zinedine Zidane head-butted Marco Materazzi after the Italian insulted Zidane’s sister. Zidane got sent off and France subsequently lost the match. His reaction was viewed as disgraceful by fans and the media. It is as if footballers are supposed to conform to a certain type of masculinity.
Change is possible and present.
These are enough reasons to absolutely hate football, but I simply cannot. I am optimistic about the future of women’s football. It starts with investment and representation.
In Europe, some of the top leagues were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ligue 1, in France, was cancelled for both men and women. In England, only the FAWSL was cancelled while the Premier League restarted. In Germany, a solidarity fund was used so that the Frauen Bundesliga could continue. FIFA is expanding the 2023 Women’s World Cup to allow more teams to compete. This is essential for players to get recruited by the top teams and for the overall development of the women’s game.
As the recent socio-political events have indicated, football needs to address its lack of inclusivity. This should not just involve Black men but women and LGBTQI+ people as well. There should be adequate representation at executive, management and federation level.
Yet, football is a means of empowerment for men and women.
Sadio Mané of Senegal escaped his village as a teenager because his parents did not want him to play professional football. He rebelled to follow his dreams and is now a Premier League and Champions League player. How many girls from third world countries like his do not have the opportunities he had access to? Imagine if they did.
One of the best documentaries I have seen this year is Footeuses: A Documentary on Women’s Football. It was filmed in France and includes stories of mothers, immigrants, working-class and middle-class women. They talk about how they defy expectations, celebrate the sisterhoods they formed and navigate their femininities as football players.
It reassured me that I can be a feminist and a football fan.